A fourth age of medical branding

A new generation of medical branding will bring new challenges and new opportunities for medical marketing

Perry Davis created the first bottle of his Vegetable Pain Killer in 1840. It was patented in 1845 and is believed to have been the first nationally advertised remedy for ‘pain’ (as distinct from an advertisement for a product targeted at a particular disorder.)

Its ingredients were entirely natural. It was promoted as being “purely vegetable” and indeed it was, although the ingredients were in fact mostly opiates and alcohol though that didn’t stop Davis claiming, “no family should be without it.”

In its heyday, this “vegetable elixir”, widely regarded as a wonder drug, was even distributed by Christian missionaries.

Branding of medicines and other healthcare products and services has come a long since the first age of “quackery”

As we draw near to the end of 2020 and with the first Covid vaccinations starting, now seems like the right time to look at the different ages of medical branding and what lies ahead – in the emerging 4th age.

A brief history of medical branding

After the first age of quackery, during which products were often called ‘wonder drugs’, at least by their manufacturers, came the next generation which actually was the age of the true wonder drugs.

These were breakthrough medicines and treatments that tackled many of the major and widespread disease and ailments. While some of these were still marketed directly to the general public, increasingly the focus for much of their marketing shifted to professional healthcare providers. Evolving legislation also meant that developing and supporting claims became a more scientifically based and important element of the marketing mix.

The next era saw the process of marketing medical products and services become much more professional, driven in part by an evolving more complicated and complex marketplace and the interaction with associated markets, like healthcare insurance. Medical marketing took on many of the aspects of marketing in other sectors like product lifecycles, global launches, global campaigns and brand extensions. There were other approaches that were adapted for the medical sector like patient journeys rather than customer journeys.

It was also a time which demonstrated the scale of returns for the truly successful ones when some of the medical brands joined the ranks of the largest FMCG superbrands. However, given the time, 10 years, and scale of investment, often in excess of $1billion, perhaps the returns were understandable.

The next generation

However even before the arrival of Covid and its shake up of the speed of development, testing and approval of drugs, a new fourth generation of medical marketing was emerging.

The real driver of change will be the appliance of technology. We may be leaving the age dominated by pharma companies and medical science and entering an age where the energy is as much in medical technology and Medtech brands.

The new age will see:

  • New technology including AI will allow researchers to do more and do it faster in fields like gene sequencing
  • The application of AI, VR and AR and the development of wearables and smart machines will drive better diagnosis in surgeries and hospitals and increasingly in-home with the blossoming wearables
  • New services will utilize net and mobile based platforms to disrupt existing markets and services like Logicare’s Circulation or PillPack in prescription distribution
  • Learning will be lifted from other markets and applied in medical situations – Just in Time production has become just in time surgery at Aravind Eye Care System
  • Engagement and marketing will make use of everything from social media to gaming techniques. The new devices, systems and processes being developed only become truly effective when they are bought and used by the right people, at the right time, in the right way
  • Convergence of these and existing technologies will create even more opportunities

There will of course be new drugs, but the process and the focus will also change, with faster, more agile development of more even tighter targeted medicines.

We will see the continuing rise of the empowered patient with expectations for interoperability of data and connected care, on-demand and personalized care.

Equitable access to healthcare was a challenge pre-Covid but the pandemic has only heightened and shone a spotlight on inequities and while some companies have started to address the issue others will need to step up to the plate.

The issue of sustainability feels like one where the medical marketing world is behind the curve and while Covid and the arriving vaccines may slow down the pressure, it won’t make it go away.

MedTech – something old, something new

In this new world, Medtech and new to health brands will grow in importance, we are already seeing how Apple and Amazon have established base camps.

Newer companies will need to combine the old and the new. Existing knowledge of healthcare markets and practice, medical conditions will need to be blended with the learning and approaches adopted by new age brands; brands from the worlds of tech, content, gaming; brands who act with speed and agility. Building the winning marketing ‘interfaces’ between technology and people is what will be required for success; overcoming the shock of the ‘new’ and building trust in technology will be key.

A “to do” list

As a consequence of these on-going changes, here’s a starter list of some of the things that medical marketers will need to focus on…

  • Understanding segmentation and how it’s important to combine behaviour, attitudes and motivations to understands different audiences and how to plan accordingly
  • Unlocking the value of brands by developing propositions that can help shift the conversation from cost to value or that help get brands from launch plans to in-market success by differentiating between what you can do to what is truly valued
  • Mapping patient journeys in a fuller way that start before people are even patients and that act as a valuable strategic framework, a tool that can be used to help you drive engagement and action
  • Building understanding and new capabilities through the provision of inspirational and informative training
  • Reviewing their brand’s core purpose, beliefs and behaviour and so providing a central core around which coherent changes can be built
  • Learn from other markets, especially tech and content brands, and see how those learnings and be adapted and applied for medical marketing and brand development
  • Embracing sustainability and looking to move from “Not bad” to “Do good”

A new normal is emerging in the healthcare and marketers need to embrace it and drive the necessary changes.

By: Giles Lury

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